City faces more than $3 million in cuts to meet budget shortfall

July 14, 2009

By Warren Kagarise

‘We’ve gotten to the point where it’s jobs,’ mayor says

Officials need to trim $750,000 to $1 million from city expenses before the end of the year and make at least another $2 million in budget cuts for 2010. Key sources of dollars for the city — building permits and sales tax revenue — have dropped due to the economy.The cuts would be in addition to $1.6 million city officials made during the first months of this year to patch a $1.5 million budget hole.

Mayor Ava Frisinger said her administration faces a stark financial forecast as officials begin formulating the 2010 city budget.

“Part of the issue with it is, we either continue to make cuts this year or we make more significant cuts next year,” she said.

Initial cuts were made as city staffers deferred buying nonessential equipment and supplies and enacted a hiring freeze. But officials said the next round of cuts could force the city to tap into its rainy day fund or lay off employees.

“All of these things are being done, we hope, to make layoffs unnecessary,” Frisinger said. “But they may not be sufficient and we’ve been real clear with people about that.

“We’ve gotten to the point where it’s jobs,” she added.

City Finance Director Jim Blake plans to provide updated financial data to City Council members this week. Officials said the data would provide a clearer view of the financial difficulties the city faces.

Budget documents show the city with $4.59 million in reserves March 31, the most recent data available. Officials could use the money to help patch budget holes.

“We’re still in a position in which a portion of the reserve may be used,” Frisinger said.

Councilman John Traeger said he was wary of spending reserve dollars. He said deeper cuts were all but certain to impact city services.

“We’re going to have to make some challenging cuts to services and cuts to operations,” he said.

Traeger and some of his City Council colleagues said city staffers were too optimistic when they presented earlier budget forecasts.

“The projected shortfall the administration showed us this year is worse now than it was,” Councilman David Kappler said.

Kappler said cuts “are not going to be easy. There are some real basic services people expect in Issaquah,” such as police and fire protection, and well-maintained infrastructure, he said.

Councilman John Rittenhouse, a member of the Services & Operations Committee, credited city staffers for cutting expenses without resorting to widespread layoffs.

“I think the approach the administration has taken, in my opinion, has been prudent,” he said.

Officials said the state of the national economy dashed hopes for a quick recovery. Frisinger and council members said city officials would take further steps to weather the recession.

“Hopefully, the economy will bail us out,” Traeger said. “But I’m not counting on it.”

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